As India is overwhelmed with horror stories and scenes of tragedy from Uttarakhand, what stands out as a glaring absence is the voice of the country’s corporate and business houses, and how they intend to contribute in these trying times. While the public sector units such as NTPC, ONGC among others, have been announcing substantial relief funds for the victims of the ravaged state, India Inc has been conspicuous in its deafening silence, virtually saying or doing nothing to ameliorate the pain and suffering of the tens of thousands displaced and uprooted from their homes in the Himalayan foothills. Of course, the Uttarakhand government stands exposed as utterly inept and negligent of the ensuing disaster, not paying heed to the barrage of admonitions from the meteorological department and other scientific and environmental think tanks that have been actively campaigning to reduce the onslaught of urbnaisation and deforestation in these ecologically sensitive areas. But where are the representatives of big business houses that are otherwise seen raising the shrillness of their voice on virtually every issue, from the forthcoming elections to the prospective leader that the parties must elect in order to put the nation back in track of the coveted 10 per cent GDP growth? As we assess the scope and extent of the disaster, with death and destruction wreaking havoc at every corner of the devastated northern state, we must stop and ask how the corporate interest groups seek to redress the matter, particularly when it was in their relentless drive to attain thoughtless and unsustainable ‘development’ that the debacle attained the scale that it had.
The Uttarakhand state government cast a blind eye to the slew of warnings, including one from the CAG that talked of the potential calamities of wide-scale deforestation, leading to landslides, flash floods on a ritual basis. Who will give the account of the crores of rupees poured into the headless body that is the National Disaster Management Authority, which has fared unbelievably bad in mitigating the effects of the disaster? As it appears, the Uttarakhand catastrophe is fast degenerating into a public relations exercise for some, while becoming an excuse for slogan-mongering and using it as an anti-incumbency poll plank for the others. Furthermore, instead of building and maintaining effective national highways and roads, without disturbing the sensitive ecological balance in this region, both the government and the business houses have been exploiting the resource-rich state to mint money and continue with engineering projects that are not only calamitous, but downright unnecessary. The precious hilly state, with its bounty of natural beauty, has now been reduced to a hideous pile of mud, silt and slush brought down by the gushing waters of excessive rain. In this context, it will be apt to note the actual contribution of the dams that have been constructed in this region, especially the one at Tehri, which are neither safe, nor viable. With India’s obsession with size, what they do not understand is that big dams and big hydel-power projects are completely unsustainable in a terrain as slippery as in Uttarakhand, whereas smaller projects, with modest targets and involving the locals, have a much better chance of both ensuring development and keeping up the ecological balance.